Grace's Mosaic Moments


Sunday, November 25, 2012

IN HONOR OF THANKSGIVING


In my 2011 "Reflections on Thanksgiving," I ranted about Black Friday. Alas, things have only gotten worse, with the media now proclaiming, "Gray Thursday"! Gray Thursday? Can they possibly mean Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving, the most American of all our holidays? The holiday that extends across ethnic backgrounds, religion, education, age, etc. The holiday which inspires more travel than any other time of the year - 43,000,000 according to this week's television news. 

Why is Thanksgiving such a universal American holiday? Because if you are an American—if you appreciate what being an American means—you celebrate Thanksgiving. And, if it's at all possible, you find a way to celebrate this very special holiday with family. And possibly extend the holiday feast to friends with no family of their own.

Mayflower replica, Plymouth, Massachusetts


What makes Thanksgiving so special? After all, we have a lot of holidays, from the birthday of our country to the birthdays of great men, to honoring our veterans, so what makes this one stand out?  Because 156 years before we became the United States of America, we were a tiny colony on the shore of Massachusetts. A colony of Pilgrims, religious dissenters who suffered two months on board the sailing ship Mayflower, hoping to settle in Virginia—where Jamestown had become the first English colony in the New World— only to end up at the end of a promontory considerably farther north. The place now known as Provincetown on Cape Cod. There, they found a spring. What joy to have fresh water after two months at sea. But the land was narrow, scarcely a mile wide, and sandy. No good for farming, for keeping themselves alive. So they got back on board the Mayflower and continued on. Farther along the cape's "arm," they stopped again. This time they were greeted by natives, the people Christopher Columbus had erroneously named "Indians." [The place, now commemorated as "First Encounter Beach," is on the Bay shore in Eastham, Massachusetts. We stopped there on our trip to Cape Cod last summer.]

But the soil was still sand, so once again they set sail. The next landing was more productive and the Pilgrims joined the New World's first wave of  "immigrants." Conditions were harsh, many died, but when spring came they cleared land and planted seeds.  And that Fall, they stopped to give thanks - for their survival, for food, for help from the Indians, for the new land they were settling. [Today's Plymouth offers a replica of the Mayflower, which you can explore, and an excellent reproduction of the buildings and crafts of the early colony at what is called "Plymouth Plantation."]

Over the years this First Thanksgiving has become an inspiration for a holiday which emphasizes giving thanks for all we have, particularly for the love of family and friends, for a roof over our heads and food on the table. It is also a time when, thanks mostly to volunteers, we do our best to provide "Thanksgiving" for those who have little or nothing. Nor does our government forget our men and women in uniform. Thanksgiving is truly the "universal" holiday. 


And yet . . . retail America, particularly the "big box" stores, are turning Black Friday, the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season, into "Gray Thursday," encroaching more and more on America's most precious holiday. If the owners of these corporations were going to be out there, staffing the stores on the Thanksgiving, maybe this crass play for money and more money wouldn't be so bad, as I'd like to think only those hard-shelled enough not to give a @#$% about Thanksgiving would be shopping on the holiday. BUT these corporate giants are infringing on the most sacred American family holiday by requiring their workers to be front and center for this madhouse of consumerism. Employees must cut short their holiday to run back to work at eight, nine, midnight, four a.m., five a.m.  You name the time, and some store has compromised the holiday tradition in order to offer people an opportunity to trample all over each other so they can buy a 40" TV.

NOT AT OUR HOUSE! This Thanksgiving at 6:30 p.m. we sat down thirteen to dinner - twelve family plus one "friend." [The rest of the nineteen (the brand new American citizens) who joined us last year were creating their own holiday tradition for friends visiting from Miami.] This year my son-in-law (born in Argentina) started a new tradition. He asked each person at the table, in turn, to tell what he or she was thankful for. After the adults spoke, he asked his daughters (ages 6-9) to read a list of ten things they had written down for which they were thankful. (They had to compose these lists on their own.) It was a moving experience and, as sometimes happens, it all came together in a perfect moment. 

After we stuffed ourselves with an incredible array of food, we sat around the table and talked. Just talked - in English and Spanish. None of the thirteen of us was rushing off to the mall. We enjoyed Thanksgiving for the family day it was meant to be. For the giving of thanks, not the gimme-gimme of "What can I buy & how cheap can I get it?"


Has our family had some of those Thanksgiving disasters or blow-ups that people sometimes moan about? Yes, we have, so, believe me, I particularly treasure this year's ideal Thanksgiving. And I want other people to have their very special Thanksgiving moments and not be forced to give it all up in order to go to work so crass consumerism can push our most American holiday all the way back to August. 

If you agree with me, I hope you will pass this blog post on to others. 

~ * ~

Next week: "Best Foot Forward" will likely come before "How Not to Write a Book"

Thanks for stopping by, 
Grace
Grace's books as Blair Bancroft

Saturday, November 17, 2012

LADY OF THE LOCK

In the summer of 2006 I traveled England's Kennet & Avon canal (see England at 3mph - Blog Archives - Feb 11 & Feb 23, 2011), so Lady of the Lock has been a long time in the making. Two things held it up: the crash of the traditional Regency market as Signet and Kensington shut down their Regency lines, and by the time indie publishing came along, my research materials had disappeared during my move to Orlando in 2007! But thanks to my son cleaning and organizing my garage last winter (with a magnificent array of shelving), the box containing detailed maps of the K&A canal and Bath, plus a host of other items collected during that trip, finally turned up. I practically cried. At last I could write Lady of the Lock.

It's quite possible Lady of the Lock contains more than most people want to know about building a canal - and very likely some wholly erroneous details I made up when my research failed me. But I hope any lapses on my part will not detract from the overall story, which I intended to be both heart-warming and humorous in spite of a whole series of "black moments." For cover and blurb, please see below.


At age eleven, Miss Amanda Merriwether encounters a rather rude young man on the banks of the Kennet & Avon canal and embarks on a decade-long relationship which suffers enough blows to discourage the strongest will. The young man is the Marquess of Montsale, heir to a dukedom; she, the daughter of the architect/engineer who designed the Kennet & Avon, a man the nobility consider little better than a tradesman. Scarcely a suitable family background for a marchioness! But the blood of a man capable of heading a massive construction project that has taken most of her lifetime to build runs through Amanda's veins. Even when she finally learns to spurn her long-time love, somehow a spark remains.

Grace Note:  Lady of the Lock is a "traditional" Regency in the style of my previous Regencies, Lady Silence, A Gamble on Love, A Season for Love, The Temporary Earl, The Harem Bride, The Courtesan's Letters, Steeplechase, and my two Christmas novellas, Mistletoe Moment and The Last Surprise. The canal is real, the dates of construction real. All else is fiction. The man who actually designed and supervised the building of the Kennet & Avon canal was John Rennie, a Scotsman. His career includes a number of other canals, major bridges, and docks and harbors. His design for London Bridge was carried out by his son after Rennie's death. One of the outstanding architect/engineers of his time, John Rennie is buried in St. Paul's Cathedral.

Lady of the Lock is currently "live" at Kindle and Smashwords. Best guess for Nook, Sony, and other e-readers, 2-3 weeks yet. (Please remember - Smashwords offers a 20% free read.)

Thanks for stopping by.

Grace

Coming soon: "How Not to Write a Book"  or "The Sad Tale of Rogue's Destiny"



Monday, November 12, 2012

FLORIDA ELECTIONS - EMBARRASSED AGAIN

On Election Day, November 6, 2012, I drove to my polling station, the local country club, easily found a parking space, walked thirty feet to the club, being greeted by smiling poll workers along the way. I walked into a large room, crossed to the second long table where my precinct's records are kept (two precincts vote in the same room). With only one person before me, I waited no more than two minutes before it was time to show my license, sign my name in the record book, and receive my ballot. I then sat down at one of four large round tables and filled out the lengthy (4-pages, legal length) ballot. When every oval was correctly filled (or skipped, as I could not in good conscience vote for either candidate in one particular race), I re-checked my ballot - still comfortably seated at the table - before taking it to the ballot-scanning machine. There I encountered another helpful, smiling poll worker, who watched me feed the pages into the machine and then handed me my "I voted" sticker.

The above experience has been mine through all the elections I've experienced since I moved to Orlando five years ago (and similar to my experiences for a quarter century in Venice, FL). Each time television news programs show long lines, yet on Election Day I walk straight in and vote. Why? Until this week I hadn't stopped to analyze the problem. But when I did . . .

On Election Day 2012, less than five miles east and west of where I voted, students at the University of Central Florida and voters in the predominantly African-American Pine Hills communities waited in line for hours and hours and hours. Anyone in line when the polls closed at seven o'clock was allowed to vote. Which meant that some people were still voting when the vote-count began and it became apparent just how close the Florida race was going to be. The television news showed people in line keeping in touch through their smart phones and determined to wait to vote, no matter how long it took, because they could see their vote was really going to matter.

I, along with the rest of Florida (except for the poor souls still in line), sat in front of my TV and watched with avid interest as state after state was "called" by the experts for Obama or Romney. The Florida count was 50-50, 50-49, 49-50, see-sawing back and forth between the candidates. The Electoral College votes mounted. Florida was going to do it, I was sure. We were going to be the decisive state. Wow!

But - what? Ohio - in a later time zone - got their votes counted before Florida. New Mexico, Colorado - way west of Florida - got their votes in. The Presidential election was essentially over, Obama giving his victory speech, and Florida's votes weren't counted yet. Romney conceded - and Florida's votes weren't counted yet. The entire "voting map" was colored in with red and blue states, except Florida which was a sickly blue on some maps and yellow on others. 

For FOUR DAYS!  Yes, our votes did count, but it didn't seem like it. It seemed as if all those determined voters stuck it out in line for nothing. Because on election night, their votes were not counted as red or blue by the news media. The State of Florida, once again the laughingstock of the nation.

Why? The following is my opinion, but, providentially, it was borne out by a column in Sunday's Orlando Sentinel, so I don't think I'm too far out of line. It would seem that the Florida Legislature, far too full of people with their own agendas rather than people concerned about good government for the State of Florida, not only tried to mess with the Florida Constitution and State Supreme Court, they were determined to make it as difficult as possible for voters in certain districts to make themselves heard. I, who vote at a country club, had everything made easy. Students, blacks and Hispanics - who tend to vote for the more liberal candidates - had everything made as difficult as possible to cast their votes. 

One of the rays of hope in all this is that it appears the man scheduled to be the next Speaker of the Florida House was voted out of office. (A recount is in the works as the vote difference is about 123 votes - yet more proof that every vote counts.) The Supreme Court judges the Legislature wanted to oust were retained by the voters. Most of the ridiculous and convoluted amendments to the Florida Constitution were voted down. Which means . . .

You might be able to fool voters once, but not twice. Common sense ruled. Wow, special-interest politicians, I guess we voters are smarter than you thought we were.

Is there any hope of fixing the Florida election system? I'm not optimistic, since it isn't just the present administration which has manipulated the system. But no one likes to have egg on his/her face. Young, old, Republican, Democrat, Independent. It's EMBARRASSING. Not just the United States, but the whole world sees Florida as a backwater swamp that can't even get its votes counted until four days after the elections. And if we go back to those hanging chads, where a political nobody from Florida was allowed to decide the outcome of a national Presidential election . . . Ah, well, don't get me started on that! 

So perhaps the politicians in Tallahassee will be forced to do something about election reform at long last. Forced to create a more equitable system of polling stations. Forced to make fair rules and stick to them so the various Supervisors of Elections aren't left tearing their hair and wondering how they can make their way through the morass of Legislative obstacles. (Is that the shadow of Jim Crow I see?)

I've lived and voted in Florida for thirty years. And most people I know are really trying to do the right thing, to vote for people they believe will do their best for Florida. So how have we gotten ourselves into this untenable situation? I guess we're just going to have to be smarter, more discriminating. Pay more attention to who's going to Tallahassee and not just who's going to Washington. 

I was planning to tell a couple of election horror stories that happened here in Orlando, but I've decided they don't fit in this post. I may write about them at another time or I may be able to swallow my indignation, as the losing half of the electorate must, if we are to function as a country again, not two separate belief systems with a chasm between. I'm old enough to remember when this country "worked," when we all pulled together, finding reasonable compromises when necessary, to make it great. We need to find our way back. 

No, we must find our way back - so we can move forward!

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by. 

Grace



Monday, November 5, 2012

HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR CHARACTERS, Part 3

The most important lesson to be gained from this series on "How to Develop Your Characters" is:  
No Cardboard Characters Allowed!

No characters taken verbatim from movies, television, or other people's books. No characters skimmed off the top of your mind without thought. (Except one-sentence walk-ons who don't really need a lot of depth.) Yes, movies, TV, or books might give you that germ of an idea, but you must take it and make it your own. Figure out who these people are, what made them who they are, and are they worthy of a place in your story?  If not, keep mining the depths of their characters until they are. Or get rid of them!

But how are you going to let your reader know what you've discovered about your characters? Are you going to sit down and write a couple of brilliant paragraphs telling us about them, as Nora Roberts told us about Tucker Longstreet? Sadly, today's market, particularly the romance market, says, "No." There are, however, several acceptable ways to "show" readers your characters rather than "tell" us about them.

1.  Dialogue. When writing dialogue, always keep in mind the depths of your character's personality. Would he or she really say that? As the book progresses, you reveal the various characters' personalities by what they say to each other. (It's possible your character might develop to the point where you have to go back and change previous dialogue because you suddenly realize he/she "would never say that."

2.  Narration. You can use your characters' actions to reveal more about them. Do they pace the room? Run hands through their hair? Do they remain calm, even cold, poker-faced, in time of trouble. Are they strong and silent, or do they talk all the time? Do they cry, panic, run for cover? (Hm-m-m, the last is definitely not recommended for anything but secondary characters. Modern heroes and heroines are expected to be stalwart.)

3.  Introspection.  Most important, and all too easily forgotten, is Introspection. This is revealing the Point-of-View characters' thoughts through narration. [Beginning writers are urged to keep to the Point of View of Hero, Heroine, and Villain (if applicable).] It is all important for an author to get inside his/her main characters' heads and let readers see the story through their eyes. Do not stand on the outside and be a narrator! Get inside the Hero's and Heroine's heads and let us see what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel. This is what grabs readers' hearts and makes them care about your characters. Repeat: readers do not want you to tell the story. They want you to let your characters show them what is happening. 

~ * ~

 A Note on Villains. 
I know no one who does a more evil villain than Karen Rose. I knew her before her first book was published and became an avid fan. The problem is, I had to stop reading Karen's last book. Really evil, sickly evil, villains just aren't my thing. They make me squirm. That's not why I read. But for those who do like something stronger than your usual villain, I strongly recommend reading Karen Rose's books and noting how she creates her villains. I've heard Karen speak on this subject twice now, and she has prepared herself with an excellent understanding of the inner workings of evil minds. She didn't just jump in and say, "I'm going to write a Bad Guy today."  

For those of us who prefer something less strong . . .
We still have to take the time to understand our bad guys and gals. Why would they be so mean? Is it money, jealousy, something twisted in their past? Or are they simply bad seeds? I personally prefer what I call Jack Higgins-style villains. I like to see some contrast in their personalities, something not all bad. I prefer villains who are not insane or basically evil. And, as Higgins has done, I like to see an occasional villain be redeemed. As he did with the villain who became the hero in a subsequent series of books. Or the German sub commander readers liked so much he had to resurrect him!

Whatever style villain you want to write, don't make him skin-deep. Justify the villainy with solid motives, glimpses into his/her background, and plenty of Introspection, showing us his/her thoughts. My best villain, I believe, is in Shadowed Paradise. I was almost shocked to discover that those scenes just flowed out, needing almost no revision over the several versions of the book that have appeared before its present incarnation as an online indie pub. Truthfully, I'm still not sure where that villain came from. An excellent example of a character taking over and telling his own story!

~ * ~

Look to friends, relatives, and not-friends for inspiration. Everywhere you go—Wal-Mart, Target, a sports arena, national park, Disneyworld, international travel sites—keep your eyes and ears open, your imagination quivering for input. Newspapers, TV, movies, the mall, the neighborhood—pay attention! Absorb the feel. Be aware. The world around us is a gold mine of characterization. No, not copying, but catching those tiny sparks that can lead to an explosion of something new. A smile, a frown, a slouch, an accent, a burst of laughter, a baby gurgling, the guy who yells, "Bitch!" because you passed him. A political rant that makes you wince. Any and all can inspire ideas that move your characters from two-dimensional to three.That take a cardboard stereotype and turn it someone readers can laugh and cry with, love or hate . . . and want to keep turning the pages (or flipping that button on their e-readers).

Or you can make every last bit of it up, straight out of your imagination. As long as you take the time to discover your characters and don't settle for a thin fa├žade, it's okay to grab your characters out of the "cloud." 

How to Develop Your Characters? Just plunge right in, ask the questions a good reporter must ask:  Who, What, Where, When & Why? Whether your character is good or bad, sweet or annoying, weak or strong, figure out what makes them tick. And don't forget to share the parts that are important to the story with your readers. The rest, more subtly, will take care of itself. 

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by. 

Grace

Coming sometime in November - LADY OF THE LOCK, a new Regency by Blair Bancroft in the tradition of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer